Monday, July 15, 2013

Rockefeller University eyes platform over FDR

By Matt Chaban - Reprinted from Crain's New York Business

In a proposal to be formally unveiled Wednesday night, the Upper East Side school will unveil plans to build a two-story research building with a landscaped green roof and a conference center over the highway.

Rendering of a deck Rockefeller University would build over the FDR Highway.
Photo by Rafael Vinoly Architects.
Rockefeller University on the Upper East Side is preparing plans to grow, but with no space left on its campus, the school has come up with a tried and true solution: building new facilities on a deck the school would build over the FDR Highway.

The university, which stretches from East 62nd to East 68th streets along York Avenue, will unveil plans Wednesday night to build two small buildings on a platform over the highway along the East River. There will be a two-story research building measuring 160,000 square feet with a landscaped green roof and a conference center. The platform will extend roughly from East 64th Street to East 68th Street.

"The new building is critical to maintaining the university's excellent standards for research and teaching, by allowing for the recruitment of new faculty to replace those lost by attrition, and for the renewal of laboratory space that is outdated and poorly suited to modern science," said a spokesman in an email.

He stressed that the small buildings would not impede views of or from Manhattan, nor would they expand the university's size "in terms of personnel or activities." This is thanks to an innovative design from local architect Rafael Viñoly, where the two-story building will actually be built into the platform, so that the roof is level with the rest of the campus. This will create a larger quad without taking up space on the expanded campus. Whether the older research buildings will be replaced or redeveloped is still being determined.
This is the not the first time the university, established by John D. Rockefeller in 1901 to champion medical research, has expanded over the busy highway below. In 1987, a dormitory building opened atop a platform over the southbound lanes of the FDR between 62nd and 63rd streets. Five years later, a new research building was finished over both lanes of the highway at 64th Street. The new platform will extend from there all the way up to the northern edge of the campus.

The university is not the only institution to take advantage of cantilevered real estate: both the United Nations to the south, and Weill Cornell Medical Center directly to the north overhang the highway.

On terra firma, the university also has plans to convert a parking lot on the northwest corner of the campus, at East 68th Street and York Avenue, into a new athletic center, which will consolidate facilities from across campus. 

The project does not yet have a price tag or a firm timeline, though it will need zoning approvals before it can move forward. Wednesday night, the plans will be presented to the local community board's land-use committee, which will eventually vote on the project. The university already owns the air rights over the highway, so once it has the city's blessing, building should not be a problem. 

Hunter Armstrong, executive director Civitas, an Upper East Side advocacy group focused on open space issues in the neighborhood, said the idea was interesting, but it raised cause for concern over impacts on the adjacent East River Esplanade. “We’re trying to rescue the esplanade, which has long been neglected, so we have to be careful of the impacts of these cantilevers on our park,” Mr. Armstrong said.

The Rockefeller spokesman noted that it would be proposing improvements to the esplanade along the length of the campus as public benefit from the expansion, though it would require city support and planning to do so. One dream of Mr. Armstrong’s, that the university would open up its 14-acre campus to the public—a space that will grow larger with the new platform—remains unlikely.

“The nature of some of the work we do here, it’s not appropriate to the public coming onto the campus,” the spokesman said.

Mr. Armstrong feared the expansion could set a dangerous precedent, or accelerate one already under way. “I don’t want to see these cantilevered buildings becoming a model for all future development on the east side of the East Side,” he said. “They’re quite uninviting spaces and they can become echo chambers.” 

View the original article at Crain's New York Business.
and "Space-Starved East Side University Wants To Expand Over FDR" on Curbed NY.



Sunday, July 7, 2013

Upcoming Environmental Activities on the Upper East Side and in East Harlem

July 16: "Green" Meeting at Lenox Hill Neighborhood House

Attend an information session with the NYC Department of Housing, Preservation & Development in partnership with Council Member Jessica Lappin. Topics include: green financing, water & energy conservation, recycling, weatherization, and utility incentives.

Lenox Hill Neighborhood House
331 East 70th Street (between 1st and 2nd Avenues), 1st Floor Auditorium

July 20: City Of Water Day Festival  

Saturday, July 20
10 am - 4 pm 

Locations include:
Harlem River Park at East 135th Street. For the activity schedule, click here
Liberty State Park, New Jersey
Governor's Island
All details are available at:

July 14: Paper SHRED-A-THON at the 92nd St Greenmarket

Sunday, July 14
10 am - 2 pm 

First Avenue (between 92 & 93rd Streets)

Shred documents for free at the 92nd St Greenmarket. Other items to recycle include: eyeglasses, corks, batteries, Britta filters, DVDs/CDs, jewel cases, cell phones and cords.

Updated Information on Neighborhood Greenmarkets

Summer is here and our community's greenmarkets are thriving. Go early for the best produce!  Read the recent CIVITAS newsletter piece and updated details provided by Upper Green Side on the CIVITAS blog. Visit one of the following greenmarket locations:
East 67th Street Market at P.S. 183
East 67th Street (between First & York Avenues)
East 82nd Street, St. Stephen’s
East 82nd Street (between First & York Avenues)
East 92nd Street Market
First Avenue (between 92nd & 93rd Streets)
Mt. Sinai Greenmarket
99th Street (between Madison & Park Avenues)
Harvest Home East Harlem Market
East 104th Street at Third Avenue
Harvest Home Metropolitan Market
99th Street at Third Avenue
  • Many of the markets offer merchandise and services beyond farm-grown food.

Friday, July 5, 2013

CIVITAS announces...

A joint panel discussion series with 

the National Academy Museum 

Fall 2013 and Winter 2014 

on Art, Design and the Urban Environment.

Topics include the East River Waterfront, Second Avenue Subway, Zoning and Neighborhood Revitalization. Artists, policymakers and urban innovators will meet in panel discussions to speak about Upper East Side and East Harlem issues.

Discounts for admission will be available to CIVITAS members. 
Stay tuned for dates and details on or call (212) 996-0745. The National Academy is located at 1083 Fifth Avenue.

Thursday, July 4, 2013


Memorial Sloan-Kettering - CUNY Hunter College East 74th Street Project 

At numerous community meetings, CIVITAS has testified for open space improvements to be part of a proposed 450-foot-tall complex by the City University of New York Hunter College (CUNY) and Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center (MSK). The location is between East 73rd and East 74th Streets and York Avenue and the FDR Drive. The million square-foot project’s application has entered the Uniform Land Use Review Procedure, which includes recommendations to the NYC Department of City Planning from the Community Board and the Manhattan Borough President. 

CIVITAS is strongly in favor of improvements to the nearby East River Esplanade and feels that additional open space needs to be created and improved on the development site or very close by to accommodate the thousands of daily visitors. 

The project consists of an ambulatory cancer care hospital and nursing school and is currently a city-owned site, zoned for manufacturing (M3-2). The applicant is seeking a zoning change to a commercial (C1-9) lot, which allows for a 10 Floor Area Ratio (FAR). The applicant is also requesting a zoning text amendment for additional development rights (2 FAR), which could exceed 130,000 square feet. 

CIVITAS has urged open space improvements that are immediately proximate to the development site to handle its negative impacts, high automobile and pedestrian traffic and building density. We insist on improvements that are commensurate with the extremely valuable development increases being considered. 

Expansion of City Recycling Program 

New York City recently announced the biggest expansion of its recycling program in 25 years which it states will lead to more than 50,000 tons of waste diverted from landfills. The biggest change is that New Yorkers can now recycle hard plastics, including: 

• plastic bottles, jugs & jars 
• plastic caps & lids 
• plastic food containers (yogurt, deli, hummus, dairy tubs, cookie tray inserts, “clamshell” containers, other plastic take-out containers) 
• plastic packaging (“blister-pak” and “clamshell” consumer packaging, acetate boxes) 
• plastic housewares (flower pots, mixing bowls, plastic appliances, etc.) 
• bulk plastic (crates, buckets, pails, furniture, large toys & appliances, etc.) 

You can find a full list of what you can and cannot recycle on the Department of Sanitation’s website: 

Apartment Building Recycling Honor Roll 

Congratulations to the following building for their participation in the Apartment Building Recycling Initiative: 
• 1192 Park Avenue 
• 410 East 57th Street 
• 1070 Park Avenue 
Join the Honor Roll! Contact CIVITAS at 212.996.0745 or visit: 

City & Suburban and First Avenue Estates Model Tenements 

CIVITAS wishes City & Suburban Houses a happy 100th anniversary. We joined many neighbors in May to commemorate this milestone and the long fight to make this historic East 79th Street complex a NYC landmark. Betty Cooper Wallerstein, Andrew Dolkart, Tony Wood and many veterans of the preservation battle gathered at Temple Sharaay Tefila to celebrate. 

At deadline, the fate of another model tenement, First Avenue Estates, remains in limbo and is up for public hearing in June at the Landmarks Preservation Commission. The owner, Stahl Development, has made a hardship claim against landmark status. CIVITAS has testified in support of keeping the historic designation and commends Friends of the UES Historic Districts for leading the charge to uphold the landmarks law. Both tenement complexes were granted landmark status for their role in the Progressive Era housing movement. 

East Harlem Rezoning Update and Park Avenue Vision Session 
In spring 2013, Community Board 11 submitted zoning recommendations to the NYC Department of City Planning (DCP) for the Madison, Park and Lexington Avenue corridors. Developed in partnership with CIVITAS and described in detail in the winter 2013 newsletter, the study included suggestions for rezoning this area between 115th and 132nd Street. The full text of the zoning study is available on We look forward to swift action by the DCP to bring much-demanded, up-to-date zoning to East Harlem. 
As part of a focus on revitalizing and improving the Park Avenue corridor, CIVITAS joined many stakeholders at a May visioning workshop sponsored by the NYC Economic Development Corporation (EDC). Much of the discussion focused on the Harlem-125th Street Metro North Rail Station, the nearby abandoned comfort station and the open space below the viaduct. Many East Harlem neighbors who were part of CIVITAS’s rezoning meetings in 2012 consider new uses (not parking lots) and better design under the viaduct to be key changes to revitalizing this corridor. Do you have suggestions to improve the rail station, comfort station or viaduct near 125th Street? If so, pass along your ideas to CIVITAS and we will share them with EDC. The agency is working with WXY Architecture + Urban Design and Philip Habib & Associates and expects to share their plans later in 2013. 


In winter 2013, Syracuse University’s Lubin House exhibited Reimagining the Waterfront’s first place designs by Joseph Wood, an architecture graduate student. Syracuse Dean Randall Korman spoke at the February opening reception. Pictured: Sarah Henry (Deputy Director and Chief Curator of the Museum of the City of New York), Hunter Armstrong, CIVITAS Director Lucienne Bloch & Claude Bloch, a Syracuse alumnus.

In February, Joan K. Davidson, honorary chair of the 2013 Annual Benefit, played host to a cocktail party celebrating the August Heckscher awardees. Pictured: Honorary Chair Dan Brodsky, CIVITAS Chairman Genie Rice, Honorary Chair Joan K. Davidson, Honoree Edie Kean and CIVITAS President Felipe Ventegeat. 

In May, Hunter Armstrong and architectural historian John Kriskiewicz presented “East of Eden” at House of the Redeemer. The lecture was a detailed, illustrated history of East 96th Street and how policy, preservation and advocacy have influenced its diverse development. More than 80 guests attended the jointly-sponsored lecture and reception in the House’s historic library. Pictured: Janet Robertson, a House trustee, and John Kriskiewicz.

In April, CIVITAS was honored with the Visionary Award by Friends of the Upper East Side Historic Districts. The award was for the Reimagining the Waterfront Esplanade project and presented by Kent Barwick (pictured right) at the Park Avenue Armory. Also pictured are Bill Bateson, Neville Epstein, Hunter Armstrong and Felipe Ventegeat. Photo courtesy of Friends. 

In May, CIVITAS and Trees New York co-sponsored a tree stewardship workshop at East 120th Street and Paladino Avenue. Volunteers cleaned and planted in tree beds recently installed by Trees New York to absorb stormwater runoff. The service project also coincided with the Great Saunter, a 32 mile walk along Manhattan’s shore, and volunteers cheered on participants as they walked the Esplanade. 

In May, CIVITAS joined Upper Green Side, East River C.R.E.W. and Friends of the Esplanade for It’s My Park Day, a citywide park cleanup event. Volunteers planted rose and butterfly bushes in the planter at East 96th Street and the FDR Drive. The daffodils and tulips that we planted along the Esplanade during last fall’s park clean up event survived the brackish floodwaters of Superstorm Sandy and bloomed this spring.

Air Quality and Recycling Workshop 
To celebrate Earth Day, CIVITAS sponsored an Air Quality and Recycling Workshop at Lenox Hill Neighborhood House on April 22. Topics included the NYC Clean Heat Program and alternatives to the polluting No. 6 oil, as well as the NYC Department of Sanitation Apartment Building Recycling Initiative. 

Harlem Earth Day Panel Discussion 
As part of the Harlem Earth Day 2013, Executive Director Hunter Armstrong participated in a panel discussion on environmental justice at My Image Studios. The event was sponsored by Harlem Park to Park and fellow panelists included environmental activist Peggy Shepard with West Harlem Environmental Action (WE ACT), Donnel Baird with Echo Green, and Tony Hillery from Harlem Grown. 

To read the complete spring 2013 issue of CIVITAS News, visit

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Notification: Rockefeller University Expansion Presentation and New York Presbyterian Medical Facility Presentation

Left: Aerial view of Rockefeller University Right:  Rockefeller University looking North from East River Esplanade

Community Board 8 Land Use Meeting

Informational Presentation: Rockefeller University proposes to build a low research building (two-stories with rooftop pavilions) and a one- story conference center in air space over the FDR Drive adjacent to its campus, plus a one-story recreation building in the NW corner of the campus. Rockefeller University currently extends from 63rd Street to 68th Street between York Avenue and the FDR Drive.
Informational Presentation: New York Presbyterian Hospital will provide an update on its new medical facility that will be constructed on York Avenue between 68th and 69th Streets. They will discuss the overall project plan, construction timeline and logistics.
Discussion of refining and/or amending language to allow funding to also apply to the creation of public open space as well as existing parks in the Community Board 8 adopted MSK/CUNY zoning text amendment.
New York Blood Center
310 East 67th Street, Auditorium
Wednesday, July 10, 2013
For the most up to date information check:

Reimagining the Waterfront is a CIVITAS-sponsored initiative to improve the East River Esplanade between East 63th and 125th Streets.  For more information visit: Call (212) 996-0745 or email to get involved.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

The Future of Bicycles on the Upper East Side and in East Harlem

Michael Storm 
Since the days of protests against unruly bike messengers to today’s debates about food deliverymen, bikes have remained a controversial addition to New York City’s streets. But with city government now embracing cycling in new ways and with ridership on the rise, it’s time to take a look at some of the prospects for bicycles on the Upper East Side and in East Harlem. 
One of the most visible changes to our neighborhood has been the addition of protected bicycle lanes to First and Second Avenues north of 59th Street. The lanes were proposed in 2011 with construction beginning in 2012. Currently, the lanes are about 50% complete and extend northward along First Avenue from 59th Street to 96th Street and southward along Second Avenue from 125th Street to 104th Street. The alteration of the previous design is relatively simple: instead of running between the line of parked cars on the curb and vehicular traffic, the new lanes take the curb and parking protects cyclists from traffic. 
Even when an unprotected bike lane offers space for one UPS truck to double-park, the other one chooses to double-park in the street. This causes congestion for both cyclists and vehicles. 

The new lanes offer benefits to all residents while also raising issues that deserve attention. New curb extensions included in the protected bike lane design— which include planters for additional street trees—shorten the distance from one side of the street to another and give pedestrians additional protection while crossing the street. Residents, such as the elderly and children, will have less distance to cover while crossing the street. 
The new lanes also address an oft-voiced complaint about bicyclists’ lack of attention to traffic laws. Because the new lanes concentrate cyclists in a narrow corridor between the curb and parked cars, it is much more dangerous for them to ride excessively fast. With increased numbers of cyclists using the lanes, it will also be more difficult for bicyclists to ride in the wrong direction. 

The NYC Council has also become more proactive in addressing the legal violations of bicycle deliverymen. Two recent pieces of legislation by local Council Members Melissa Mark-Viverito and Jessica Lappin increase enforcement of prohibitions against electric bicycles and raise the fine for those using them. With rules requiring helmets, vests with restaurant identification, and other related materials, the Council has also increased enforcement of regulations for bicycle deliverymen. The intent is to make restaurants more responsible for the safety and behavior of their employees. 
This delivery cyclist from Upper East Side restaurant China Fun is sporting a regulation visibility vest with restaurant identification number, license plate, and helmet.

A more pressing concern for cyclists and drivers alike is double parking, which has become more of an issue as protected bike lanes take up more road space. While delivery trucks could once park in an unprotected bike lane and allow for adequate flow of vehicular traffic at the expense of cyclists, they now sit in one of only three vehicular lanes. 

To argue against protected bike lanes because they remove space for double-parking ignores the reality that double-parking is dangerous and difficult regardless of bike lanes. As the DOT completes bike lanes along First and Second Avenues, increased awareness of double-parking should prompt us to advocate for new solutions to improve our streets. 

Sitting in the wings is the new CitiBike share program that was just launched in May. While we await an extension of the program to the Upper East Side and East Harlem, the successes and failures of the program that now covers Manhattan below 59th Street and western Brooklyn will shape when and how the program is extended north. More importantly, CitiBike marks a new era for cycling in New York City and a new look for our streets. As things continue to progress, we can look forward to new ways to improve our streets and our neighborhood. 
A CitiBike rack ready for installation on NYC streets. Photo by Daily News. 
To learn more about cycling, visit: and to learn more about the CitiBike share program visit: 

To read the complete spring 2013 issue of CIVITAS News, visit

Extra! Extra! City Bans Newsracks!

Vanessa Gruen 
Dream on. In cold fact, CIVITAS has struggled for years to bring violations of newsrack regulations to the attention of the Department of Transportation (DOT), our city’s protector of streets and sidewalks. But thanks to the city’s desultory enforcement, newsracks remain as great a scourge as ever. 
A Learning Annex newsrack box on 60th Street and Second Avenue. 
The fight began when Gorman Reilly of CIVITAS organized a coalition of civic groups, including the Municipal Art Society, to deal with a massive proliferation of newsracks. This began with USA TODAY’s early success in the 1980s using newsrack boxes as a primary means of distribution. In 2003 the coalition was instrumental in getting the City Council to adopt some stringent regulations governing design and permissible locations on city sidewalks. A year later, the Council weakened the regulatory regime by allowing publishers to self-certify that their newsracks were clean, free of graffiti and stocked with their publications. Today, many newsracks throughout the city are filthy, covered with graffiti, and devoid of publications. Some publishers disdain both the regulations and their obligation to self-certify, and DOT has relegated its duty of enforcement to a low level of priority. 
Streets and sidewalks occupy one quarter of all the public acreage in the City, more than all our parks put together. This public space deserves more attentive guardianship. Sidewalks should be kept free of unnecessary clutter and should allow for easy and pleasant pedestrian flow. Many essential items vie for space on our sidewalks. These public necessities are carefully regulated by DOT and other public agencies. Planters, bollards, newsstands, bus shelters, benches, trash receptacles, phone booths, etc. must all go through a permitting process or must obtain revocable consents from DOT before they can be placed on our sidewalks. Not so with newsracks. The regulations permit newsracks subject only to registration with DOT (a prerequisite that many vendors do not bother with) and compliance with certain design and location standards (which, experience shows, are honored primarily in the breach). City officials typically say that the First Amendment ties their hands. CIVITAS disagrees with this assessment, and the courts have upheld a city’s right to regulate their public sidewalks for the public’s safety and aesthetic reasons. 
DOT has adopted a passive stance towards enforcement. At best, it responds laconically to complaints from the public. CIVITAS recently sent DOT a list, compiled with the aid of CIVITAS member William Marquardt and interns, that specified 162 locations between 59th Street and 96th Street from Fifth to York Avenues where newsracks were in violation of the law. The response was disappointing. What we got back is a list of how many Notices of Correction were issued for a variety of infractions, and does not include which specific newsrack was, in their judgment, in compliance and which was not. CIVITAS was also told that complaints of underused or empty newsracks must be addressed directly to the publishers because Local Law 36 of 2004 does not provide an enforcement provision for such complaints. So is the public required to do the city’s job and call the publisher and tell him that his newsrack that is sitting on our public sidewalk is empty, full of garbage and needs to be restocked? Of the list of 162 errant newsboxes that CIVITAS forwarded to DOT they removed ONE newsrack because it lacked proper identification. According to DOT, they removed a paltry 51 newsracks in 2012 throughout the city. 
Recently several CIVITAS Streetscapes Committee members have undertaken some of their own sleuthing. Rita Hirsch brought to the Committee’s attention the fact that the Learning Annex boxes have a discontinued telephone number on their rear side. All newsracks are required to display proper identification. Learning Annex informed a Committee member that its New York City headquarters office is no longer occupied. It is clear that Learning Annex has abandoned these boxes. There are roughly 1,400 Learning Annex boxes throughout the city, and both the Learning Annex and DOT have not removed those in violation. 

The time has come to rethink whether the newsrack law should be totally revamped to ban racks altogether, or to allow only multi-racks in selected locations. DOT’s disinterest in enforcement coincides with a sharp decline in publisher interest in stocking newsracks. Publishers of newspapers and other once-print media increasingly look to the Internet as the primary vehicle for distribution outside of home deliveries and newsstand sales. As best we can determine, the New York Times no longer uses newsracks in New York City. The Learning Annex apparently now relies primarily on Internet advertising of its courses. If countless newsracks appear to be abandoned, there is good reason: time has passed them by as an effective means of distribution. 

One of hundreds of poorly maintained and 
empty newsrack boxes. 
Attorneys consulted by CIVITAS advise that it is almost certain that the courts would uphold a law banning newsracks on public sidewalks from a challenge under the First Amendment. Laws banning newsracks from Beacon Hill and Back Bay in Boston have been sustained, and courts (including the Supreme Court) have assumed that flat bans throughout a municipality would not be deemed unconstitutional. 

Alternatively, New York City could revisit the idea that newsracks be included in the coordinated street furniture franchise. Several years ago the city first proposed such a franchise that would include bus shelters, automatic pay toilets and newsstands, and a Request For Proposals was issued that included the design of a multi-newsrack. Cemusa was awarded the franchise; however the multi-rack was omitted from the franchise before a contract was signed. The city should review its thinking on whether to incorporate multi-racks into the coordinated street furniture franchise and to ban all other newsracks. Cemusa would be asked to install multi-newsracks in all city neighborhoods, to keep them clean, and to assure that they are properly stocked. 

Now is the time for mayoral candidates to commit: tighten the law and enforcement, substitute multi-racks for individual boxes, or ban all racks on our streets. 

To read the complete spring 2013 issue of CIVITAS News, visit